Tall wood buildings spread around the world


CNN this week covered the trend of tall, modern wood buildings being constructed in countries around the world. As so many countries, cities, architects and developers are discovering, tall buildings can now be built with a type of wood called cross-laminated timber (CLT) that is much more efficient, attractive and environmentally friendly than concrete or steel.

Quoted in the CNN story is British Columbia architect Michael Green, an innovator in CLT who starred last year in a series of wood-building videos sponsored by the Washington Forest Protection Association, the Washington Contract Loggers Association, the Family Forest Foundation and the Washington Farm Forestry Association.

(Green) said news of taller wooden structures is sprouting up all the time.

“There seems to be a new announcement every two or three weeks,” Green said. “We’ve got one in Vancouver for 18 stories and in Vienna there’s one for more than 20 stories.

“We’ve done research in high earthquake zones that show 30 stories is feasible; we certainly think we can go to 40 and higher.”

Green is right. Do an online search for cross-laminated timber, and projects are being announced about every week. A factory in British Columbia. A summer house in Quebec. A 10-story high-rise in England that claims to be the largest CLT building in the world.

The Northwest is also fertile ground. SmartLam, located in Whitefish, Mont., says it’s the first CLT distributor and manufacturer in the U.S., and this month it announced plans to expand its plant to be the largest CLT plant in the world.

SmartLam’s panels are made with low-grade dimensional lumber from F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co. that are sawn into smaller pieces and finger-jointed and planed into a 2-inch product that is then cross-laminated into large, heavy and very strong panels.

Currently the panels are being used in the oil industry for drilling rig platforms, bridges and roadways, but SmartLam wants to start producing panels for building construction, which is common in Europe.

Large CLT buildings are also now coming to Washington. Bellevue First Congregational Church, founded in 1896, is moving out of its longtime downtown Bellevue home because of high demand for the land and building a new sanctuary a half mile away. That $7.5 million, 5,000-square-foot sanctuary will be built with CLT.

First Congregational’s new church includes the largest installation of cross-laminated timber (CLT) in Washington state and one of the largest uses of CLT for a spiritual space in the world, according to the First Congregational’s project team. The sanctuary is being build with a 38-foot wall of angled, undulating CLT across one wall.

Here’s a photo gallery of what the new sanctuary will look like.

The church asked (Seattle architecture firm) Atelier Jones to “create a space of awe,” Susan Jones, founder of the firm, said in a press release. Atelier Jones has worked with the church to incorporate the cross-laminated timber into (the) project. The CLT is made from industrial dried lumber stacked together at right angles and glued over their entire surface.

…The 38-foot-tall CLT wall will stretch across the north wall of (the) sanctuary. Natural light from skylights and concealed tall windows will wash the surface of the CLT.

As engineer Andrew Lawrence told CNN, constructing your building with wood just makes the place feel better.

“If you leave the wood exposed, you can have a really nice environment inside the building,” he says. “There are studies that show that people are happier inside wood structures.”